The Rosary Of Latitudes

By Usha Akella

usha

 

“If I told you, all the latitudes
are the unread lines of my love letter…”

The book is a travelogue- when I say travelogue I don’t want to confine it within the set parameters of what the definition stands for. The book is about the travels of the poet but the journeys are not confined to the ones physically taken but those of life. This beautiful compilation of prose and poetry is to be taken in slowly and to let it unfurl in your senses like the heady tones of a cup of jasmine tea.
The book begins with an introduction from the poet and ends with a poem on the title of the book. The reader is given a glimpse of what is to follow but what is unexpected is the impact the book leaves on one’s mind. A sense of loss pervades and Akella’s play with words reminds one of Mirza Ghalib’s works. His letters and his poetry encapsulate an era and a city lost to him forever. Akella through her journeys observes how the loss is irreplaceable be it of the cities that she travels to or the people she has preserved in her memory.
The book has been divided into sections but the expressions and emotions flow across them like a river and by the end of the book one is submerged in the river and does not want to come out of it.
The first section opens with poetry festivals that Akella has attended and been a part of. What is interesting is that this section is not only throwing light on the festivals attended but is also looking at the history and culture of the place that is visited. The photographs play an important part in helping give a visual impression of what the poet is talking about. The photographs are poignant and as the adage goes- ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ holds true for the photographs included in the book.
The first photograph that arrests you is that of an old man and a small girl- the piece written on them is a powerful one and talks of the delicate connection that exists between two generations. This fragile connection finds a space in the later poems where the poet talks about her childhood.
“No words pass between them, even if they did, 
neither of them would understand what they meant.”
The section on Turkey ends with a photograph of names written on sands and implies the transitory nature of our lives and the relations that exist here. It brings to mind Orhan Pamuk’s Istnabul where hüzünpaints nostalgia and although that is present to a certain extent in Akella’s work; there is a balance maintained when she talks about a place. The delight and awe with which she regards a place has been captured beautifully. How time has flown without disturbing the rubric of the city. The “indescribable feeling” that Akella experiences while walking the city makes the reader understand what she articulates through her works that we as people are trying to hold on to moments and things that cannot be confined for long; that they are meant to be felt and not given words. The black and white pictures that are spread across the book add not only nostalgia but arrests moments that should stay fresh in the mind of the reader and the writer.
Beauty is not only to be felt and appreciated but can also become claustrophobic as experienced by the poet on her travels. The spiritual overtones in the book become apparent when Akella visits Konya in Turkey – the birthplace of Rumi. It is here that she feels the spiritual connection come alive. Akella ponders over Rumi’s creations and how “…he uses words to extinguish words.” Even the prose takes on a poetic quality in the hands of Akella and the reader does not feel the difference between what is prose and what is poetry as defined theoretically.
Her discussion on Rumi takes the reader back into that era when Rumi must have composed his greatest works and Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak comes to one’s mind. Akella composes a poem on Rumi’s Mausoleum and it’s a beautiful rendition. The poet in this poem and the subject lead an entwined life- Intoxicated by the creation that surrounds them as well as the creation they make. The river of poetry that flows across nations and nationalities is felt by the poet at a poetry festival held in Struga and she feels that her poetry has “melded with an ancient river of voices”. Languages- poets- emotions- all merge to create a magical moment that Akella captures in her poem. Further on in the book, her love for poetry comes out strongly when she declares-
“This is consumerism I approve of —
booksbooksbooks,
the poet like a rock star
signing unending autographs.”
The interesting part about this book is how the prose precedes the poetry but does not disrupt in any manner the poetical form. The poems seem to fill the gaps that the prose has left intentionally.
“The poem begins in the soul of the poet and completes itself in the reader’s mind. Throughout the world the midnight oil burns as poets validate self and other, and the poems become bridges. We may create in isolation, but our work is for all.”
The poems further on reveal a sense of a new self that foreign lands provide as well as a sense of awareness and the complicated knots that we are tied up in are not forgotten and the poet dwells on it –
“…in a foreign land there are no
knots of failed relationships, the gnawing unease
of families as spider webs to which we belong,
knowing not who is the weaver,
but knowing we are caught.”
She further on illustrates beautifully what it means to be a poet and who are the subjects –
“You are the poems,” says one poet...”
And well said; as the book is a poem and the ones that have been mentioned or discovered in this book are its subjects. To write about this book in a cold methodological fashion would be to do injustice to the essence of this book; the creations that proliferate in these pages deserve to be praised and be touched upon delicately.
The India poems are where the poet engages beautifully with the old and the new.
“Chants in a roadside temple somewhere
make the new air ancient.”
The whirling of the words continues around the hauntingly beautiful pictures that occupy a part of this book. The poet is now in Mexico and questions in one of the poems – “Is Poetry an Altar of forgotten Gods?” Amidst the questions that arise when it comes to the art of writing poetry and the new places that evoke a sense of newness inside the poet; she cannot help but acknowledge the role that familiarity plays in one’s life and she describes it as –
“In some sense you look for home however far away from it..”
And
“A place is reborn again and again in each traveler’s imagination.”
Remembering those who are no more begins with a visit to Anne Franks’ house and the poet writes-
“…the future is renowned to be a late visitor.”
Although the feeling of loss is universal it is being a foreign land that predominates the mood and as the poet sets it down in words-
“Once again we are on foreign ground, unloosened from our
own culture, a bit giddy like the pigeons entirely
unsure what the dance of freedom means.”
This constant dialogue that occurs within the book has its focus on nostalgia and finding one’s roots. There is a feeling of familiarity when the poet visits Israel and writes- “Born Hindu, I felt not as an outsider but entered the mysteries of ‘other’ religions. I became aware that my religion of birth gave me the latitude to partake of the ‘other’ with such freedom. I experienced myself as universal capable of transcending form.” The poet further on in the book, brings in the question of how a woman is considered to be a repository of culture and what all is expected from her. The poet writes-
“…how one’s body becomes the battlefield of the world and in some unconscious manner we partake of the destiny of the planet; its wounds are ours; there is no ‘other’ or theirs. We all make the body of the planet which has too many gashes and wounds. We have too many causes to support and too much to comprehend.”
There is too much to comprehend and it is in the section titled Home that the poet tries to make sense of relationships and look back at past to understand oneself. On her coming to India as a child she writes-
“When you don’t know the language you are born into you lose out on a culture, a cultural sensibility, a herd and the comfort of belonging. I’ve lived with an un-anchored feeling all my life, a vagueness within like a cloud. I am not sure how to belong and whom to belong to.”
Akella’s description of her mother and how she adjusts to the changes life brings has been expressed in such a heart rendering manner that one can almost visualize it-
“For decades, she carried Australia inside her much the way we carry our collective identity. It replaced her Indian roots with an inexplicable ease, had her loyalty and became the land to long and weep for. Something in her died when she returned to India. My mother would have gladly traded her nationality if she could.”
It is not the country that is being invoked but a repository of memories and moments that define a person’s life; those very things that attach a person to a particular place or person and to be taken away from it destroys a part of oneself. The poet is sensitive in her portrayal of this feeling.
“Lands insert themselves into the mind like love letters into envelopes. As time goes by you forget the words but the fragrance remains.”
Further on, in a poem titled Origami, she says-
“In our minds years fold as origami,
(there are lists, but in the end, shapes)”
It is these years that have been described in the section India once again. The gaps seem enormous when she compares her childhood with that of her daughter-
You took and gave without effusive thank-you’s or self-consciousness.Our childhoods were enormously different. Nowadays, you better punctuate every deed with a Hallmark card. Market and brandish your affection and gratitude.
It is not only a comment on the yesteryears and the nostalgia that it invokes; there is also a sense of loss that accompanies it. The poet’s writes –
Numbed by thirteen days of feasts and meals,
Still, the living cannot rent the veil and peep,
Here the head, here the heart, the hip, the heel,
She’s gone and grieving hearts must heal.
The loss is a deep one and the poet writes in another poem- 
But a country presses me down as a paper weight,
like fine needles pinning down butterfly wings,
fluttering flightless flight.
Fluttering flightless flight,
I can’t fly try as I might.
If India filled the poet with memories then her current place of residence has as much important role to play in her life.
Her section on United States of America,opens up with her observations as a migrant who has to shift to a new place and not everything is milk and honey. The acceptance of/by goes hand in hand when it comes to the one migrating and the place on is migrating to.
Home points to both sides of the Atlantic. Country is the space the mind inhabits, no longer a marked geographical entity.
The book has a glossary in the end which is of great help and the bookends with a black and white photograph of the poet and her daughter. With shadows forming on the ground, the photograph encapsulates the journey the poet has been on and now she is home. A reader by the end of the book can almost feel the power of the words that the writer weaves and the book goes down deep in one’s heart to awaken the lost self that one locked up and had forgotten about.

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Published by : 
Transcendent Zero Press, 
Houston, Texas
www.transcendentzeropress.org

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